HOW MUCH is too much when it comes to buying a watch? With luxury watch prices on the rise thanks to inflation (and that little supply and demand issue), the current climate isn’t particularly conducive to buying a luxury timepiece. Nevertheless, we’re seeing hordes of collectors and enthusiasts pay ludicrous sums on the soaring grey market, signalling that despite the economic downturn, people willing to spend small fortunes on hyped, rare or collectible watches do still exist. And it would appear they have cash to burn.
But beyond snapping up the usual Pepsi GMTs, Nautilus and Royal Oaks, increasingly, serious watch collectors are looking towards ultra-rare timepieces. From one-off collaborations to iconic pieces with a historical celebrity reference, such as Steve McQueen’s personal HEUER Monaco, which fetched a whopping $3.17 million at auction in 2020.
So, what else are the world’s most cunning watch hunters adding to their collections? Scroll on to see.
Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona Ref. 6239
Sold for $26.5 million in 2017
While Paul Newman is considered, first and foremost, as one of the most iconic Hollywood movie stars to ever live, his next claim to fame would have to be his affinity for watches. In particular, his stainless steel chronograph Rolex Daytona Ref. 6269, a watch gifted to him by his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, to mark the beginning of Newman’s racing career.
On the caseback of this particular Daytona, she famously engraved a note of caution, “Drive Carefully – Me”. This watch is arguably the most famous watches in the world, but it also happens to be one of the most expensive ones, too. While it remained within the Newman family for nearly 50 years before it was consigned for auction with Phillips, the model sold for a mind-boggling $26.5 million dollars in 2017.
Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010
Sold for $46.2 million in 2019
If you were to look at the list of the top 20 most expensive watches ever sold, you’ll find Patek Philippe makes up 75 percent of the sales. This fact not only sums up the technical prowess of this iconic watchmaker that dates back to 1839, but the overwhelming interest watch collectors have in acquiring whatever piece of history Patek Philippe is offering.
Case in point, the one-of-a-kind Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010, which currently stands as the most expensive watch ever sold at auction. So what makes this timepiece so special to afford such a price? For one, it’s Patek Philippe’s most complicated wristwatch ever built, crafted to celebrate the brand’s 175th anniversary in 2014. It features over 20 complications on two dials, holds six patents, and took the brand’s grand watchmakers seven years and more than 100,000 hours to create. In 2019, Christies sold it for a neat $46.2 million.
Heuer Monaco Ref. 1133 “Steve McQueen”
Sold for $3.17 million in 2020
Continuing with the trend of Hollywood movie stars and their iconic watches, movie star/style icon Steve McQueen was the poster boy for one of the world’s best marketing campaigns (and one that is still used today). We’re talking about the HEUER Monaco, of course, which McQueen wore during his time filming the 1971 classic, ‘Le Mans’.
This watch was one of the very first self-winding chronograph wristwatches to be produced, and one that offered a never-before-seen water-resistant square casing. This particular watch, which went up for sale at a Phillips auction in 2020, was gifted to McQueen by Haig Alltounian, the chief mechanic in ‘Le Mans’ and McQueen’s own personal mechanic, too.
Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref. 5711/1A-018 “Tiffany & Co”
Sold for $9.37 million in 2021
Here lies the watch that officially broke the internet upon its release back in 2021. While polarising, there’s no denying the impact the Patek Philippe “Tiffany” Nautilus had on the watch community and beyond. In the aftermath of its release, “Tiffany-blue” coloured watch dials became extremely hard to come by: the Rolex Oyster Perpetual in turquoise blue sky-rocketed in demand, and subsequently, in price as a result.
This special Tiffany Nautilus was only sold to a handful of VIP Tiffany & Co customers, which included the likes of Jay-Z and Corey Gamble. This one, in particular, went up for auction at Phillips shortly after its release in the name of charity, pulling almost $10 mil.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillon Ref.26620IO
Sold for $7.5 million in 2021
If you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and Black Panther is one of your favourite superheroes), then you’re bound to love this timepiece: the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillon.
This watch was designed together with Marvel to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the iconic Royal Oak collection. The first of this unprecedented collaboration was this unique piece in white gold, sporting a hand-engraved motif inspired by Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther (aka Price T’Challa) sitting above the impressive flying tourbillon. This piece sold for a staggering $5.2 million at a private celebrity event in 2021 hosted by comedian Kevin Hart.
Rolex “Paul Newman Big Red” Daytona Ref. 6263
Sold for $7.79 million in 2020
Only three years after the record-breaking sale of the original Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona Ref. 6239, another of Newman’s famed timepieces went under the hammer, this time the highly-documented, somewhat mythical “Big Red” Daytona.
Consigned by Newman’s daughter, Clea Newman Soderland, the Big Red Daytona was purchased by Newman’s wife in 1983 and was the timepiece worn most frequently by Newman until his death in 2008.
Iconic in every facet, from the red-script ‘Daytona’ over the sundial at 6 o’clock, to the three white registers on the black dial – and, of course, the iconic “Drive Slowly – Joanne” inscription on its caseback – this stainless steel chrono is a collector’s grail. Above all, it also cements the fact that Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, had an impeccable taste for watches. It fetched $7.79 million at a Phillips auction in 2020.
Philippe Dufour Grande et Petite Sonnerie No. 3
Sold for $10 million in 2021
Crafted entirely by Philippe Dufour himself, a man widely regarded as the greatest master of independent watchmaking, this wristwatch was a landmark release back in 1995, and 30 years ever, its relevancy continues.
Only eight of its kind were ever produced, with the initial piece requiring over two and a half years to complete. This example was just the third to leave master Dufour’s workshop. For those that don’t understand why this timepiece is considered the greatest independent watch every made, you only have to look at the extent of its complications. This was the first wristwatch to incorporate a grande et petite sonnerie, the pinnacle of complications and indeed a feat of miniaturisation, construction, and finishing. Sold by A Collected Man in 2021, it collected $10 million.
Omega Speedmaster Broad Arrow Ref. 2915-1
Sold for $4.9 million in 2021
While not quite in the same record-breaking realm as its counterparts above, the Omega Speedmaster Broad Arrow Ref. 2915-1 is iconic in its own right — it broke all records for the most expensive Omega Speedmaster ever sold.
This classic 1957 Speedmaster, with its handsome deep-brown “tropical” dial, classic “Broad Arrow” hands and manually wound Caliber 321 movement, is a watch collector’s dream. The incredibly high sale — another Phillips auction — of this pre-moonwatch iteration just goes to show how sacred vintage Speedmasters can be.